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Analysis

Johnson will be forced into a referendum or an election

by Luke Lythgoe | 20.06.2019

“If the new prime minister cannot end the deadlock in Parliament, then he will have to explore other democratic mechanisms to break the impasse,” Philip Hammond will say today in what will almost certainly be his last Mansion House speech.

With no coherent Brexit plans emerging from the Conservative leadership contest, the winner – most likely Boris Johnson – may be forced to do what the chancellor says. Pro-Europeans must then be ready to win.

Johnson’s half-cocked Brexit plan is to renegotiate Theresa May’s Brexit deal, removing the so-called backstop that prevents a hard border in Ireland. If that fails, he will try to crash out of the EU with no deal on October 31 anyway. None of this is, contrary to what Johnson claims, “eminently feasible”.

The EU has ruled out any renegotiation of the Brexit withdrawal agreement signed with Theresa May – just today Dutch prime minister said Johnson’s plan is impossible. The intractable issue of the Irish border will not go away. But MPs will also not allow the new prime minister to drive the country off a cliff with a no-deal Brexit. Without a general election, the overwhelming parliamentary majority against no deal will not go away.

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So Johnson’s plan is a dud. And, as Hammond will say today: “If your plan A is undeliverable, not having a plan B is like not having a plan at all.”

Then what might plan B look like? The new prime minister will have several choices. There is the general election route. Despite his Tory colleagues’ terror at the prospect, Johnson may have the chutzpah to call one himself. Alternatively, he could plough on with no deal and force the Commons to have a vote of no confidence in his government. The outcome is probably the same – a general election – though some sort of national unity government is also a possibility.

It’s unlikely that the Conservatives under Johnson could ever win a majority by themselves. That raises the unsavoury prospect of an electoral pact with Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party. That decision would likely shatter the Tory party.

The other option is a new Brexit referendum. That will probably be the next prime minister’s best bet for keeping the Tory party together. Sure, hardcore Brexiters wouldn’t be happy. But Johnson could sell it to them as a last resort, having tried all other options, and be confident about the chances of “no deal” winning.

Whichever plan B the new prime minister chooses, pro-Europeans must be ready to seize the day and win it. That means being honest with voters about the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. But it also means making a strong, positive case for the UK’s membership of the EU. That’s why it’s so important to get the ball rolling with the March for Change on July 20. Sign up and donate.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

7 Responses to “Johnson will be forced into a referendum or an election”

  • I reckon it has to be a referendum, to deal with the single issue of Brexit. (That does not preclude a GE as well when the gvt fails). Remain as we are, leave on May’s deal or leave anyway. I’d prefer just two options – stay or leave. But if there was to be a third – leave on May’s deal and leave without a deal – that could (usefully) split the leave vote?? Or else first, second options could push leave ahead – the analysis is tricky.
    There could be another big problem: the Brexit/UKIP mk2/Farage machine, largely funded and operated by the likes and links with Banks and Bannon et al. They are still under investigation for potential illegalities last time around. Somehow any repeats of that manipulation have to be avoided, at all costs.

    Also will require some serious pro-EU electorate education.

  • I marvel at the fact that a man like Boris Johnson, someone with a chrome-steel reservoir of hubris and an underdeveloped understanding of the concept of “truth” as his defining characteristics, still is believed by anyone at all. Especially the 0.25% of Brits in the shape of Conservative Party voters who will ram this joke of a politician through our gullets. Can anyone explain just where democracy can be spotted in these proceedings?

  • Good article, Hugo. I would settle for a second referendum with the option to remain. There are over 6000 comments on the BBC website about the Tory leadership and Brexit. Some of the ignorance and cavalier ‘let’s get on with it irrespective of the damage’ comments are scary. We would need to put the pro-EU case properly and in a very organised methodical way (unlike las time). I am sure we have the intellectual capacity among our ranks to do this. The system for choosing a new PM has to change, whatever party you support. How can Brexiters lecture about democracy when the last two PMs have not been elected by the population at large? Surely, in the aftermath of all this mess we have to have a debate about a written constitution and how democracy operates in this country. I wonder if Cameron ever thought his cavalier decision to have a referendum would ever lead to all of this. Those so are leavers would do well to think on that the aftermath of Brexit (if we leave) could be far, far worse!

  • Just asking the rhetorical question regarding the Tory Party – who is the real incubus and who will do the pitchforking? I think that blondy has been standing in front of a mirror since he said that and got a real shock – he detected the first shoots of horns. No wonder he’s been out of sorts with his domestic arrangements. What a devil – or demon- of a situation!